Oxford University’s student union has said it had not told students to use gender pronouns such as “ze” instead of “he” or “she”, calling such a move “totally counterproductive”.
A number of reports at the weekend said the student union had issued a leaflet telling students to use gender neutral pronouns such as “ze” in order to stop transgender students being offended.
A denial published on the OUSU website said: “As far as we’re aware, the information which has been published is incorrect. We have not produced a leaflet implying that all students must use ‘ze’ pronouns to refer to others, or indeed to themselves.”
The union’s policy has only ever been to encourage students to declare their chosen pronoun when they speak at meetings, it added.
The statement added: “We would also like to clearly state that we would never tell anyone to use ‘ze’ pronouns instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’ if ‘he’ or ‘she’ is the pronoun someone wishes to use. That would be misgendering and would likely have the biggest impact on individuals who may already be struggling to get people to use ‘he’ or ‘she’ for them. It would be totally counterproductive.”
The claims about gender-neutral pronouns first appeared in the Sunday Times but subsequently featured in other outlets including the Daily Mail, Huffington Post, the Times of India and Russia Today.
Oxford University’s newspaper, Cherwell, reported that the Sunday Times said the main source for the article was an OUSU policy document published in June 2016, which contains no mention of the word “ze”. It states that speakers in OUSU meetings should identify their preferred pronoun and their name.
The newspaper also cited a document [not seen by the Guardian] that appears to have been issued by an LGBT organisation and which the Sunday Times said had been handed out in fresher’s week. The Guardian could not confirm the source of the document, or its contents. The president of the university’s LGBTQ+ society said during fresher’s week the only handout it had produced was an introductory booklet to the society, which appears to make no mention of gender pronouns.
The OUSU said the story may have referred to support materials used by student leaders and welfare representatives, which reminds people of the importance of not assuming the pronouns of their peers. It added that there was a possibility that it had been confused with the wider university, “whose trans policy and guidance does include a mention of neopronouns (pronoun sets like ‘ze/hir’, ‘ey/em/eirs’)”.
The Sunday Times did not reply to requests for comment before the publication of this article.